NFFO Shellfish Committee Works on removing obstacles to Policy

18th March 2013 in Shellfish, Shellfish

The NFFO Shellfish Committee met recently. NFFO representatives from Cornwall and Devon, Channel Islands, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland and East Anglia, travelled to London to contribute.

The meeting was also supported by the participation of DEFRA officials, Cefas scientists, Seafish, the Shellfish Assoc of Great Britain and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.

Assessments

Stock assessments, broadly equivalent to those produced by ICES for whitefish stocks, are now available for crab and lobster. These will inevitably play a central role in shaping future government policy towards the shellfish fisheries. The Committee therefore used the opportunity to probe Cefas scientists on the methodology used in the assessments and to discuss their ramifications. Whilst it is clear that there are still many uncertainties in the way that Cefas assess the shellfish stocks, the Committee underlined its eagerness to work with scientists in Fisheries Science Partnerships to strengthen those parts of the assessments identified as requiring further work.

NFFO Shellfish Policy

The Committee noted that it was in September 2011 that the NFFO, after a considerable amount of work on the part of the Committee, had finalised its policy positions on crab and lobster management measures and presented these to Government. Since then DEFRA had been gripped by a debilitating inertia on progressing the issues raised, caused by lack of staff, the Government's blanket moratorium on new legislation and an obsession with introducing a system of rights-based management to the shell fisheries. As a result no progress had been made, although a recent letter from DEFRA had acknowledged the strength of the ideas put forward in the paper, and gave some hope of a reinvigorated approach.

The Committee considered that the central features of the NFFO policy - an incremental approach beginning with ring fencing of the higher-volume crab fleet and a strong regional dimension to technical measures, remained valid. It was agreed to write to the Minister about the lack of progress and to raise the issue with him at the NFFO AGM on 15th May.

The Committee remained of the view that DEFRA's over-concentration on grandiose blanket schemes such as a national pot limitation scheme and rights based management (TACs) was a fundamental reason why policy had stalled. A step-by-step approach would already have taken us a considerable way towards sustainable management of the crab and lobster stocks, had a start been made.

Marine Conservation Zones

The Committee expressed concerns over the potential impact of the rushed and flawed process for establishing a network of marine protected areas on shell fishing. The potential for displacement of fishing activity from customary areas and knock-on consequences for a range of fisheries was a very real one, especially in inshore waters where the impact will be felt most immediately.

International Cooperation

An update on a major project designed to build international industry cooperation in the offshore crab fisheries was received. It was agreed that such initiatives strengthened the basis for voluntary management measures and marketing in the future.